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Tillie: A Mennonite Maid By Helen Reimensnyder Martin Characters: 11944

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It soon "got put out" in New Canaan that Miss Margaret was "promised," and the doctor was surprised to find how much the news depressed him.

"I didn't know, now, how much I was stuck on her! To think I can't have her even if I do want her" (up to this time he had had moments now and then of not feeling absolutely sure of his inclination), "and that she's promised to one of them tony Millersville Normal professors! If it don't beat all! Well," he drew a long, deep sigh as, lounging back in his buggy, he let his horse jog at his own gait along the muddy country road, "I jus' don't feel fur NOTHIN' to-day. She was now certainly a sweet lady," he thought pensively, as though alluding to one who had died. "If there's one sek I do now like, it's the female-and she was certainly a nice party!"

In the course of her career at William Penn, Miss Margaret had developed such a genuine fondness for the shaggy, good-natured, generous, and unscrupulous little doctor, that before she abandoned her post at the end of the term, and shook the dust of New Canaan from her feet, she took him into her confidence and begged him to take care of Tillie.

"She is an uncommon child, doctor, and she must-I am determined that she must-be rescued from the life to which that father of hers would condemn her. You must help me to bring it about."

"Nothin' I like better, Teacher, than gettin' ahead of Jake Getz," the doctor readily agreed. "Or obligin' YOU. To tell you the truth,-and it don't do no harm to say it now,-if you hadn't been promised, I was a-goin' to ast you myself! You took notice I gave you an inwitation there last week to go buggy-ridin' with me. That was leadin' up to it. After that Sunday night you left me set up with you, I never conceited you was promised a'ready to somebody else-and you even left me set with my feet on your chair-rounds!" The doctor's tone was a bit injured.

"Am I to understand," inquired Miss Margaret, wonderingly, "that the permission to sit with one's feet on the rounds of a lady's chair is taken in New Canaan as an indication of her favor-and even of her inclination to matrimony?"

"It's looked to as meanin' gettin' down to BIZ!" the doctor affirmed.

"Then," meekly, "I humbly apologize."

"That's all right," generously granted the doctor, "if you didn't know no better. But to be sure, I'm some disappointed."

"I'm sorry for that!"

"Would you of mebbe said yes, if you hadn't of been promised a'ready to one of them tony Millersville Normal professors," the doctor inquired curiously-"me bein' a professional gentleman that way?"

"I'm sure," replied this daughter of Eve, who wished to use the doctor in her plans for Tillie, "I should have been highly honored."

The rueful, injured look on the doctor's face cleared to flattered complacency. "Well," he said, "I'd like wery well to do what you ast off of me fur little Tillie Getz. But, Teacher, what can a body do against a feller like Jake Getz? A body can't come between a man and his own offspring."

"I know it," replied Margaret, sadly. "But just keep a little watch over Tillie and help her whenever you see that you can. Won't you? Promise me that you will. You have several times helped her out of trouble this winter. There may be other similar opportunities. Between us, doctor, we may be able to make something of Tillie."

The doctor shook his head. "I'll do my darn best, Teacher, but Jake Getz he's that wonderful set. A little girl like Tillie couldn't never make no headway with Jake Getz standin' in her road. But anyways, Teacher, I pass you my promise I'll do what I can."

Miss Margaret's parting advice and promises to Tillie so fired the girl's ambition and determination that some of the sting and anguish of parting from her who stood to the child for all the mother-love that her life had missed, was taken away in the burning purpose with which she found herself imbued, to bend her every thought and act in all the years to come to the reaching of that glorious goal which her idolized teacher set before her.

"As soon as you are old enough," Miss Margaret admonished her, "you must assert yourself. Take your rights-your right to an education, to some girlish pleasures, to a little liberty. No matter what you have to suffer in the struggle, FIGHT IT OUT, for you will suffer more in the end if you let yourself be defrauded of everything which makes it worth while to have been born. Don't let yourself be sacrificed for those who not only will never appreciate it, but who will never be worth it. I think I do you no harm by telling you that you are worth all the rest of your family put together. The self-sacrifice which pampers the selfishness of others is NOT creditable. It is weak. It is unworthy. Remember what I say to you-make a fight for your rights, just as soon as you are old enough-your right to be a woman instead of a chattel and a drudge. And meantime, make up for your rebellion by being as obedient and helpful and affectionate to your parents as you can be, without destroying yourself."

Such sentiments and ideas were almost a foreign language to Tillie, and yet, intuitively, she understood the import of them. In her loneliness, after Miss Margaret's departure, she treasured and brooded over them day and night; and very much as the primitive Christian courted martyrdom, her mind dwelt, with ever-growing resolution, upon the thought of the heroic courage with which, in the years to come, she would surely obey them.

Miss Margaret had promised Tillie that she would write to her, and the child, overlooking the serious difficulties in the way, had eagerly promised in return, to answer her letters.

Once a week Mr. Getz called for mail at the village store, and Miss Margaret's first letter was laboriously read by him on his way out to the farm.

He found it, on the whole, uninteresting, but he vaguely gathered from one or two sentences that the teacher, even

at the distance of five miles, was still trying to "plague" him by "siding along with his child ag'in' her parent."

"See here oncet," he said to Tillie, striding to the kitchen stove on his return home, the letter in his hand: "this here goes after them novel-books, in the fire! I ain't leavin' that there woman spoil you with no such letters like this here. Now you know!"

The gleam of actual wickedness in Tillie's usually soft eyes, as she saw that longed-for letter tossed into the flames, would have startled her father had he seen it. The girl trembled from head to foot and turned a deathly white.

"I hate you, hate you, hate you!" her hot heart was saying as she literally glared at her tormentor. "I'll never forget this-never, never; I'll make you suffer for it-I will, I will!"

But her white lips were dumb, and her impotent passion, having no other outlet, could only tear and bruise her own heart as all the long morning she worked in a blind fury at her household tasks.

But after dinner she did an unheard-of thing. Without asking permission, or giving any explanation to either her father or her stepmother, she deliberately abandoned her usual Saturday afternoon work of cleaning up (she said to herself that she did not care if the house rotted), and dressing herself, she walked straight through the kitchen before her stepmother's very eyes, and out of the house.

Her father was out in the fields when she undertook this high-handed step; and her mother was so dumb with amazement at such unusual behavior that she offered but a weak protest.

"What'll pop say to your doin' somepin like this here!" she called querulously after Tillie as she followed her across the kitchen to the door. "He'll whip you, Tillie; and here's all the sweepin' to be did-"

There was a strange gleam in Tillie's eyes before which the woman shrank and held her peace. The girl swept past her, almost walked over several of the children sprawling on the porch, and went out of the gate and up the road toward the village.

"What's the matter of her anyways?" the woman wonderingly said to herself as she went back to her work. "Is it that she's so spited about that letter pop burnt up? But what's a letter to get spited about? There was enough worse things'n that that she took off her pop without actin' like this. Och, but he'll whip her if he gets in here before she comes back. Where's she goin' to, I wonder! Well, I never did! I would not be HER if her pop finds how she went off and let her work! I wonder shall I mebbe tell him on her or not, if he don't get in till she's home a'ready?"

She meditated upon this problem of domestic economy as she mechanically did her chores, her reflections on Tillie taking an unfriendly color as she felt the weight of her stepdaughter's abandoned tasks added to the already heavy burden of her own.

It was to see the doctor that Tillie had set out for the village hotel. He was the only person in all her little world to whom she felt she could turn for help in her suffering. Her "Aunty Em," the landlady at the hotel, was, she knew, very fond of her; but Tillie never thought of appealing to her in her trouble.

"I never thought when I promised Miss Margaret I'd write to her still where I'd get the stamps from, and the paper and envelops," Tillie explained to the doctor as they sat in confidential consultation in the hotel parlor, the child's white face of distress a challenge to his faithful remembrance of his promise to the teacher. "And now I got to find some way to let her know I didn't see her letter to me. Doc, will you write and tell her for me?" she pleaded.

"My hand-writin' ain't just so plain that way, Tillie. But I'll give you all the paper and envelops and stamps you want to write on yourself to her."

"Oh, Doc!" Tillie gazed at him in fervent gratitude. "But mebbe I hadn't ought to take 'em when I can't pay you."

"That's all right. If it'll make you feel some easier, you kin pay me when you're growed up and teachin'. Your Miss Margaret she's bound to make a teacher out of you-or anyways a educated person. And then you kin pay me when you're got your nice education to make your livin' with."

"That's what we'll do then!" Tillie joyfully accepted this proposal. "I'll keep account and pay you back every cent, Doc, when I'm earnin' my own livin'."

"All right. That's settled then. Now, fur your gettin' your letters, still, from Teacher. How are we goin' to work that there? I'll tell you, Tillie!" he slapped the table as an idea came to him. "You write her off a letter and tell her she must write her letters to you in a envelop directed to ME. And I'll see as you get 'em all right, you bet! Ain't?"

"Oh, Doc!" Tillie was affectionately grateful. "You are so kind to me! What would I do without you?" Tears choked her voice, filled her eyes, and rolled down her face.

"Och, that's all right," he patted her shoulder. "Ain't no better fun goin' fur me than gettin' ahead of that mean old Jake Getz!" Tillie drew back a bit shocked; but she did not protest.

Carrying in her bosom a stamped envelop, a sheet of paper and a pencil, the child walked home in a very different frame of mind from that in which she had started out. She shuddered as she remembered how wickedly rebellious had been her mood that morning. Never before had such hot and dreadful feelings and thoughts burned in her heart and brain. In an undefined way, the growing girl realized that such a state of mind and heart was unworthy her sacred friendship with Miss Margaret.

"I want to be like her-and she was never ugly in her feelings like what I was all morning!"

When she reached home, she so effectually made up for lost time in the vigor with which she attacked the Saturday cleaning that Mrs. Getz, with unusual forbearance, decided not to tell her father of her insubordination.

Tillie wrote her first letter to Miss Margaret, ty stealth, at midnight.

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